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a short diary of some part of my life.

Posts tagged grado

Schiit Modi 3, RME ADI2 DAC, Audio-gd Reference 5 DSP

I’ll cut to the chase.

I have the following gears for comparison purposes:
– Schiit Modi 3
Audio-gd Reference 5 DSP
– PS Audio DS DAC (not pictured as it is sitting on my audio rack with lots of cables tied onto the back of the rack, btw the rack is a beauty: Symbol Audio Dovetail)
– Denafrips Ares II (not pictured)

The comparisons were made using my headphone system. The headphones are:
Sennheiser HD6xx
– Campfire Audio Cascade (yep, after so many bitchings about ALO Audio, I hold their first headphones in high regard)
– Grado RS2e

Yes, the last two headphones are very colored. I like them because they are fun to listen to and offer completely different experience from one to another. Unlike DACs which are hard to differentiate, headphones and loudspeakers are not.

Headphones amps used to power headphones above:
– Schiit Magni 3+
Woo Audio 6 SE

My thought process was to use two different amps to basically give some options. The Magni 3+ is a sublime solid state while the Woo is a superb Class A tube amp.

Build Quality

They all offer very solid build quality. There is no product used from bad audio company here. At first, I thought the most attractive was off course the PS Audio DAC. My friend who visited me told me it looks like a Canon printer.



I can’t say I disagree. ūüėÜ
If I want to go down to nitpicking detail, I prefer all jacks to be chassis mounted. My Modi 3 has developed looser RCA connectors.

Chassis Mount Jacks

Sound Quality

To level the playing field, I always use this album as a reference point: https://www.hdtracks.com/#/album/5bffce2cc6e102670ab3facd

With the exception of PS Audio DS DAC and Audio-gd RE5 DSP, most my DACs sound neutral. This is all you should know really.

Again, if I want to go down to nitpicking details, the RME DAC performs the best out the bunch. It’s incredibly detailed and transparent. The DAC is not fatiguing like some high end DACs can be (I’m looking at you Mytek Brooklyn…).

This RME DAC actually makes my Cascade more listenable. I thought the Cascade was somewhat producing slightly convoluted sound. I was not hearing clear enough passages between notes. There is not a clear sense of space. at least with Modi 3 and Ares II. I can use the Cascade for hours, a very rare case for headphones to me. Cascade becomes more precise in terms of imaging, instruments separations and soundstage. Bass thumps are not so overly boomy anymore. I’d even claim that now, Campfire Audio Cascade has become my favorite headphones.

With Grado RS2e, the German-made DAC does not improve much of Grado’s sound traits or at least as much as it improves Cascade. It does offer similar improvements on sense of space. I love the Grado phones as it is. Actually there isn’t much to improve. Or it could be that this particular Grado is not very sensitive to small changes. To me this is a win.

One interesting find that I very much appreciate is the availability of fine sounding headphone amps in the unit. To keep this short, unless you want to have transformers-coupled tube amp sound signature, you need to daisy chain the ADI2 DAC FS with an amp like my Schiit Magni 3+. Not only if you drive your headphones direct, your headphones will sound better but also the simplicity. I do not favor using a longer signal path in between DAC and amplifier unless a preamp or a separate headphone amp brings something different on the table. So, after I paired it with Magni 3+ and WA6SE, I drove my headphones direct from RME ADI2 DAC FS. You’ll get extra airness and impacts. It’s an audio bliss how this small unit can offer so much and sacrifices nothing in sound quality.

If I want to compare DS DAC and Ares II, I would have to use a headphone amp. There is a small noticeable inferior detail retrievals. Driving my headphones direct is simply superior. Does it fare well against Paul McGowan‘s beloved DAC and Denafrips’ cheapest DAC? Yes, it does. Both DS and Ares II DAC sound warm. This can be a very pleasing for some tracks. DS DAC basically masks imperfections. The next question what Hi-Fi exactly is? RME ADI2 DAC FS is hi-fi.

Ares II fares better, although not without its flaws. Ares II somehow lacks punches. It does not have the same surreal listening experience if you play good recordings. It’s far too flat and uninviting. This Ares II will definitely go for sale soon.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a very sensitive IEM. My only IEM is Sennheiser IE8. The IEM headphone jack drives both the IE8, Cascade and RS2e just fine. It’s completely silent. There is no background noise, period. According to AudioScienceReview.com, RME ADI2 DAC FS IEM output measures the best, even when compared to the venerable THX AAA 789.

AudioScienceReview.com

RME ADI2 DAC is feature-packed. I’m a proponent that no speakers sound the same in various conditions. Headphones are not room-dependent but our ears are shaped differently. If micro adjustments are needed, RME has the features to do so.

I won’t cover all the features, they are just too many. You can read the manual, it covers everything. The manual is an interesting read; read it before you decide to buy it: https://www.rme-audio.de/downloads/adi2dac_e.pdf

Even without its’ features and functions, ADI2 DAC FS is a superb sounding DAC. Its’ features are basically the deal breaker. I’d pick RME ADI2 DAC FS over DACs listed above.

Happy listening!

Photo by adiputraryan

Reviews of Sennheiser HD650 have probably been written thousand times. That speaks a lot about its popularity. It’s one of the most well regarded audiophile headphones and it’s been around since many years ago in the form of HD580. Since the introduction of planar phones, its popularity as one of the best performing is waning. But I feel like it’s not waning at all in term of overall sound quality.

This headphone was my first audiophile headphone and is certainly one of my long time favorites along with my Grado RS1i. They complement each other. Even if compared with the HD800, I still choose HD650. Why?

  • HD800 is astronomically expensive, considering very little performance gains you are getting with HD800.
  • HD800 is not a comfortable-sounding headphone. I prefer listening to RS1i. A lot of people consider Grado uncomfortable but the HD800 is more uncomfortable. I feel more comfortable listening to HD650 for hours.

I don’t know what Sennheiser is thinking about pricing the HD800 that high. Maybe that has something to do with it being assembled in Germany where labors are more expensive than in Ireland where HD650 is made.

Comfort-wise, HD800 is more comfortable than HD650 but it’s not a huge improvement. The look itself will attract people asking about it, especially spouses who will definitely ask what kind of headphone that is. Build quality-wise, HD800 is entirely made of plastic. It feels cheap for a very expensive dynamic headphone.

Since my exposure to speakers, I have significantly reduced my investment in headphone. I don’t feel the need of having a balanced headphone setup or a very high performance headphone setup. The fund for those setups will likely eat my budget for my speakers. It’s not going to be fun as well as I won’t be able to share headphone with my wife. So the priority is to get the best sounding speakers setup. Headphone is not going away, but the priority needs to be set right. I want a headphone that sounds like speakers. I want a headphone amp that is reasonably priced, made in the USA, and high performance. I got the amp and I have reviewed it.

HD650 is the only headphone that I find sound like speakers. It does not have all the speakers superiorities over headphone. What it has, is the the trait of imaging of speakers. No headphone does it as well as HD650. I understand now why people who owned HD800, go back to HD650.

The sound is also surprisingly well balanced for a headphone. It has a few weaknesses but the imaging alone worth considering over other headphones. Since I’m concentrating my budget more on speakers and less on headphone, I consider the price to be also one of the most crucial factors. At US$500, it’s almost a no brainer. You will be hard pressed or in fact next to impossible to find similar headphones at this price. A headphone setup does not have to be super expensive to be enjoyable.

Why?

Like everything else, a journey may end at some point. I just didn’t expect this would end so soon. I was an advocate Head-Fi reader – not a frequent poster. I have gradually but surely, walking away from Head-Fi. It has become a place where I buy and sell my headphone gear. There are only very few respected Head-Fi members whose comments/replies are worth reading. To make it even worse, most if not all of them are Head-Case members (they provides better users’ impressions due to their vast knowledge about audio electronics in general and anti-hype approach). Head-Fi user interface has also become dreadful (did I mention that Head-Case interface is MUCH better than Head-Fi’s?). A prominent Head-Fi member have summed up the problems, he too decided to leave.

Head-Fi’s Major Issues

There are many other major (disturbing) issues that prompted me to say good-bye. Issues like their over-protective approach over their site sponsors, post deleted without any notice (I have seen this myself, several times. I refreshed the page after 5 minutes and some posts were gone), users’ idiocies (of defending their purchases, users’ incompetencies… make the forum very uninformative, unfriendly, and useless. There is another issue (another issue and another issue?) about sponsors trying to make easy money. Head-Fi is going to be a much worse place for those who cheer good sound if the admins decide not to do anything about those issues. Many have left, many have not posted useful posts for some time.

Head-Fi DGAF about Regular Folks

Even after issues after issues are exposed, Head-Fi still do not give a crap about us regular folks who spend countless hours on honest jobs. If I were to run a forum, read by millions of unique visitors per month like Head-Fi, I would make sure that the vendors are always kept in check, especially after vendors are caught lying or making very questionable products at extraorbitant price. They could have made the forum much safer for users with a bit more effort but they don’t.

It’s not fair to leave without saying anything, so here is a few bits of my story:
During my time searching for the right headphone, amps, and sources, I have learnt a lot. This headphone journey led me to speakers system which I think sounds superior to any headphone systems on the planet. I’m grateful for my experiences on Head-Fi. Without it, I would not know how to start looking for the right system. For those who have the funds, the space, and the time to set up a speaker system, but you are still using headphones, I urge you to try a good speaker system. It will blow you away!

I figured, it will be fair to list what headphones and amps that I have owned and tried. So, you’ll know how far I have gone. Here are the lists:

Headphones:

  • JH Audio JH16 Pro
  • Sennheiser HD650
  • Sennheiser HD800
  • Grado RS2i
  • Grado HF2
  • Audeze LCD-2 Rev.1
  • Beyerdynamic T1
  • HiFiMan HE-5
  • HiFiMan HE-6
  • Shure SE535
  • Grado HP2
  • Sennheiser HD600

Amps:

I think I have had a few more amps but I can’t remember the names.

Which headphone and headphone amp are the best and the worst?

From the owned lists above, I consider Audeze’s LCD-2 and AMB B22 as the best headphone and the best amp. The worst are Sennheiser HD800 and Audio-gd Phoenix. Although I did not own them all at the same time, I can definately tell you that HD800 and Phoenix are my least favorite headphone and headphone amp.

I dislike HD800 due to its’ artificial-like sound signature. Anything that comes out from HD800 do not sound right to me.¬†Audio-gd Phoenix sounds too smooth, is not as transparent as other top-tier amps, and has its’ own sound signature. My only requirement for a good amp is complete transparency. Its’ sound signature masks almost everything and changes my source’s sound signature. A reference amp must be transparent to the source, otherwise, you are better off settled with a tube amp like I once did with a Woo Audio 6 SE. AMB B22 and HeadAmp GS-X are much better amps than Audio-gd Phoenix, they are much more dynamic and transparent. I can easily do DBT on what source is used with AMB B22 and HeadAmp GS-X but with Audio-gd Phoenix, the differences between sources are very subtle. Even with ACSS, the Phoenix sounds soft and dull compared to AMB B22. I’m beginning to think, Audio-gd is not good at designing headphone amps. I have also briefly auditioned their Compass and C-2C and found them to be mediocre at best. A small headphone amp like AMB M^3 and HeadAmp Gilmore Lite are also much better alternatives than the big honking space heater Phoenix.¬†Audez’e LCD-2 should pair well with any top tier amps like the GS-X. It is a very transparent headphone, I think it’s a better headphone than HiFiMan HE-6 which is quite piecing on the ears. I sold the LCD-2 because I simply wanted a retro headphone and I was also disappointed with LCD-2 build quality. It’s gone now and I don’t miss it at all.

Portable Amp (w/ DAC)

There are a few things that I want to talk about portable amps. If you really need portability and you are using a notebook computer, look no further, get a CEntrance DACport. It has a superb DAC and a superb Class A amp for its size. Don’t bother buying portable DAC/amp from various unproven manufacturers, they are all inferior. Most general DAC/amp combo use battery and they need to be recharged. This is not the case with DACport, DACport only needs a USB cable to connect it to your laptop or your iPad because it does not have a battery. It draws its power from your computer’s USB port. You don’t even need to install any driver. It’s that easy. Oh yes, you can use a DACport with an iPad. If you are using a portable music player, don’t bother buying a portable amp. It adds bulk and weight. You may also end up spending too much money on LODs, interconnects… Look at this set-up:¬†Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo. Honestly, I think it looks rather stupid. If I have to use a portable music player like an iPod, I greatly prefer to use my old trusty iPod Mini (that’s right, iPod Mini) without an external amp or DAC. Sometimes, audiophiles may turn into audiphools. They are willing to sacrifice everything for one thing called sound quality. I bet CEntrance DACport offers much better SQ than that bulky set. That bulky set is NOT a portable setup. Instead of wasting your hard-earned money for silly things like LODs for an external amp or DAC, get yourself a nice pair of headphone. You will be much more satisfied in the long run.

Do I keep any headphone and headphone amp?

Now, I’m settled with Schiit Asgard (3/16 /11 – oops, got a Lyr now, purely for the tubes)¬†and Grado RS1i. I consider both of them to be the best in their price ranges. Surprisingly, I find Asgard superior to Audio-gd Phoenix (yep, a $250 made in USA amp Vs. $1200 made in China amp). Grado RS1i is a very fun pair of headphone. It excels with rocks. Guitar strings sound superb. It’s just magical with rock genre. The¬†RS1i fits better on my head, LCD-2? not as good and very heavy. You may question why I decided to scale back a bit. Well, the reasons are:

  1. I no longer listen to headphone that much.¬†I listen to headphone ¬Ī¬†1 hour a day.
  2. I don’t feel comfortable wearing headphone for hours.
  3. My fear of hearing impaired.
  4. Speakers are superior in every way. Headphone cannot resolve the same level of resolution and imaging as a good pair of speakers.
  5. I could have splashed a chunk more for a GS-1 which had always been my number one preference for a single ended solid state amp. It’s been well known that GS-1 and GS-X are the most transparent headphone amps in the market. My reason is simple, sometimes, good enough is good enough. Asgard Lyr is good enough. ūüėÄ

Now, I’m obviously a headphone lover, but the truth is, as much as I love headphones, they will always be secondary to speakers in my life, because speakers are just that much more dimensional, natural, and convenient to listen to; there’s nothing on your noggin that could fall off, or prevent you from hearing important audio cues like phones, doorbell, neighbor screaming for help, and it’s much easier to share music with others.

Schiit Asgard Lyr and Grado RS1i are my last headphone system. I will likely not going to add a headphone, unless it is broken. That Schiit amp will likely outlast me, so there you go, a long-lasting headphones system. And this is where I stopped: A Happy Ending (Hi-Fi) ~ [I also explained a bit about how you should spend your money, where to spend it on, and various issues about audiophile in general]

Head-Fi users’ impressions and reviews…
I think it will be wise for those of you who are reading reviews to make sure that the reviewer has considerable knowledge about various amps in the market. A review like¬†this is pointless IMHO… The reviewer did not compare his gear with top-tier amps and DACs or even worse, the reviewer has little to no experience with top-tier amps and DACs. I imagine the reviewer will be completely floored with an AMB M^3 or a HeadAmp Gilmore Lite .

From those many reasons above: Head-Fi is no longer a useful place and headphones are inferior to speakers, I decided to leave Head-Fi world. It’s been a fun experience. Thank you Head-Fi!

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Update (3/19/2011): ~ read links on the top of this page: https://ravenda.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/nuforce-udac2/
Looks like Head-Fi has become¬†extremely hostile towards NwAvguy, links to his blog have been deleted. Let’s wait and see what will be deleted next… This is not the first time I have seen this happened on Head-Fi. I just didn’t expect them to be super protective of their sponsors. I have all the print screens and PDFs of the deleted posts if anyone wants to read them. No wonder there are more and more¬†bad guys roaming free on Head-Fi. ūüė¶ I guess,¬†a farewell to Head-Fi is a good thing after all…